Manhattan and Brooklyn, NY
With the tulips and daffodils, cherry blossoms and bright green leaves unfurling from planters and tree pits these early spring weeks, brand new street furniture has also sprung up. Rows of Citi Bike docking stations are taking root along the curbs--and sometimes on sidewalks--of Manhattan's and Brooklyn's highest density neighborhoods. Watching this progress from my usual perch--Violeta's saddle--is a bit like watching two summers ago as DOT summarily exiled curb-parked automobiles, block-by-block, up First Avenue on Manhattan's East side. First there'd be some cones and a harmless looking DOT crew of two or so surveying the inside lane, then some spray paint... And before we knew it, a parking-protected green bike lane.
Citi Bike station, Barrow and Hudson Street, West Village. (Jen Petersen, 5/4/2013)
And like the green protected lanes, NYC Bikeshare is poised to transform how New Yorkers maneuver in the city's core. From what time we leave our homes to the neighborhoods we comfortably reach and with whom we travel en route, Citi Bike will multiply the possimobilites for those who make use of it. Crain's New York Business today reported on the anticipation in the business community, while the New York Post warned of the legal battles set to play out as neighbors who withheld comment from the 100s of community meetings where station/kiosk location suggestions were submitted and vetted, now step forward in protest.
Anytime you do anything systematic with streets, you change the way people access everything they connect. And given that New York City has the nation's lowest rate of car ownership per capita, serving the predominant scale of movement--the human scale--is a long-overdue systematic change. More people circulating on bikes instead of in cabs, on transit or private automobiles, means more slow-moving, money-spending people. And it also means more free-thinking people--people who are the engines behind the city's growing creative services and technology industries. And when they don't have to hunt for parking (car or bike) or tote their lock or swipe their metrocards again to fit in this or that errand or social event or productive meander, we can imagine that bikeshare will enable more people to do more things. And of course, each time a car doesn't start but a Citi Bike is instead undocked, the air we all breath gets a bit cleaner. And each additional bike on the street is an additional obstacle to slow speeding motorists.
But of course, prioritizing the human scale (as I've written about elsewhere--see especially Chapters 5 and 6), is also a zero-sum game. On streets that still preserve a lot of space for the automobile to park, bikeshare stations instead of parking spaces are the latest challengers to a whole bunch of comfy arrangements for those who can afford to own cars in the core--busy, powerful people used to having their way, place to park, pass to speed on the public's dime.
While many of my car owning friends love safe, walkable, *valuable* streets and don't expect that the streets serve their cars more than their bodies, other do, and don't see the conflict in their dueling desires. For empathy'sake, I've joined some of the latter group behind the windshield but it's not particularly illuminating. It seems that, when slowed up or ejected from easy curbside parking, they are hard-wired simply to react to the discomfort of their automomarginalization, and then pull at the strings they can reach. It's a class impulse, really. As when they sit stewing and cursing at the stupid motorists clogging their passage from Friday afternoon into a weekend at the Cape, they do not see themselves as part of the problem, nor with a choice about how to go, or the importance of demanding systematic investment in infrastructure to support higher quality of life transport. These have for so long enjoyed at-will access to distance--urban escapism--alongside the freshest fruits of density's offerings, that they imagine that this is the best possible scenario. But it isn't--in terms of their own health and the health of their neighborhoods, nor their creativity, nor the growth of their investments in NYC. Is there a way to gently challenge their thinking about what their tax dollars actually pay for in the public domain, and whether their cars are really worth defending among the possible recipients?
As New York's privately funded but publicly championed bikeshare network gets up and running, we have an opportunity to invite conflicted motorists into a new kind of circulation with themselves. My goal this spring is to find and make friends, and then ride with at least 2 such motorists, to get them meditating on their own mortality and the ways riding lower and slower in the saddle is worth their support--even at the cost of their car's free ride.
NYCDOT and Alta Bike Share, Citi Bike's operator, have chosen to launch bikeshare from core neighborhoods where cycling is already popular and will have the strongest chance of widespread adoption. And to those neighbors in the West Village and Brooklyn Heights already spending money to shoo Citi Bike stations from their blocks, I say: Let them be left behind. I hope that if after a few months of monitoring NYCDOT discovers under-utilized stations, they will relocate them to areas of highest demand and highest need. I'd start with all of South Brooklyn--Red Hook to Park Slope and Bay Ridge to Sheepshead Bay--plus Long Island City to Jackson Heights, Queens. In its next iteration, bike share will be a way to meaningfully incorporate transit-poor low income communities into new, human scaled growth and the economic and physical health that it can support. If wealthy motorists don't want these conditions sustained in their own neighborhoods, let them have car parking lots.
be the city you wish to see. ask me how!